Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, and Team Penske conducted the first private NTT IndyCar Series test of the year on Wednesday and once it was over, Ferrari Formula 1 test driver Robert Shwartzman led the group in the No. 11 CGR Honda with an unofficial best lap of 52.539s on Sebring International Raceway’s short course.
Shwartzman topped DCR’s Sting Ray Robb in the No. 51 Honda (52.584s), HMD Motorsports Indy NXT and CGR development driver Kyffin Simpson (52.905s), and Porsche Penske Motorsport factory driver Dane Cameron in the No. 2 Chevy (53.364s).
The test marked IndyCar test debuts for both CGR drivers, and the second for Cameron and Robb. Simpson was the busiest of the group in the afternoon, turning 96 laps, followed by Shwartzman (86), Robb (77), and Cameron (74).
“It was really fun to be there,” Shwartzman told RACER. “Overall, it was very positive, very productive. I was very curious to get to know the car. I’m very happy that my expectations were beaten. As for the physical and driving style, it’s a quite nice car to drive. Honestly, now, I don’t feel any soreness. My fitness allowed me to finish to the end. As a car itself, I really liked it and it was a fun car to drive and we tested a lot of things that I hope the team can use. Overall, very happy and excited. ”
Robb, who has yet to announce his IndyCar plans, was quickest for most of the afternoon and as speeds increased in the final hour, Shwartzman jumped to P1 as lap times began to decrease for the quartet.
“It went really well,” Robb said. “The team was easy to work with and it was great to finally meet Dale in-person. I really wanted to beat the Ganassi cars, but that’s not bad, being a few hundredths off of [Shwartzman]. Having multiple sets of new tires to work with and learn with was great, and by the end of the day, we were able to do some fine tuning. The tool box is getting bigger.”
Simpson had similar things to report after his maiden IndyCar outing.
“I really enjoyed the day and working with the team as a driver and not a fly on the wall,” he said, referencing the last year spent listening and learning on CGR’s IndyCar timing stands. “I think the pace was pretty decent and we did some good setup work, too. The NXT cars drive similar to an IndyCar; there are differences, but there’s a lot in common, and that made it easier to adjust to a car that’s faster and bigger.”
CGR managing director Mike Hull was impressed with both of his drivers.
“For Robert, definitely a quality race driver and more than that, he understands what the car needs,” he said. “He was quickly comfortable in the car and you can see why he’s been immersed with Ferrari. It was a terrific opportunity to have him test our car and for us to test him. I think he was pleasantly surprised with how an IndyCar drives. He’s in incredibly good physical condition and didn’t have any problems driving the car as the day wore on.
“He seemed to have a lot of fun driving the car, enjoyed the Firestone tires immensely and the tires were consistent from set to set for him. The ability to make progress throughout the day as he did was proof that he could adapt as the track changed. He did everything right and fit with us well. He has a great sense of how to create priority for what he needs in the car, which is what we were looking for during this evaluation day. He passed with flying colors.”
The same enthusiasm was shared for Simpson, who recently turned 18.
“I think it speaks highly of Indy NXT with how well Kyffin did today,” Hull said. “He has a full season of racing ahead of him in Indy NXT and in sports cars, but he showed that he’s capable of driving an IndyCar and can be ready to race in IndyCar in 2024, if that comes to pass. I think Kyffin, and Sting Ray Robb, both showed what they’re capable of from all they’ve learned in Indy NXT. Within the scope of his first set of tires, he was ready to find what he needed next; his test was very much in line with what Robert achieved.”